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Nursing Mama: How tragedy birthed fashion brand

 Nursing Mama Founder Beatrice Mwihaki (@NursingMamaKE)

“My brother died on Madaraka Day at the Madaraka roundabout. I missed out on the chance to spend the last few moments with him the night he died because we were about to take a family photo, and I stepped away to change into something nicer than the breastfeeding dress I was wearing,” says Beatrice Mwihaki.

She’s the founder of Nursing Mama, a fashion line that sells stylish clothes for nursing mothers.

Beatrice’s brother died in an accident after he left the house to take a quick ride around the neighbourhood before returning for the family photo. That photo was never taken.

“For months after my brother died, I just kept thinking, if I’d stayed in the room with him before he left, I’d have had at least a few more minutes to laugh with him, talk to him. I missed a moment that I’ll never get back,” Beatrice, 33, says.

“It occurred to me, a month later, that so many women must miss moments because they’re leaving the room to feed their babies, or to change into a suitable outfit to feed the baby.”

And that’s how her idea for Nursing Mama was born.

Feeling exposed

“Typically when you’re nursing as a mother, you have to either unzip your dress for accessibility or lower the sleeves of your garment,” Beatrice says, “you can’t really do this without some level of tension when you’re in public because you feel exposed. Most mothers have to walk away and find a private space to either express milk or feed their baby.”

Beatrice’s idea was to alter her existing clothes and give them a hidden accessibility gap that would enable her to breastfeed in public.

She took a sample of her clothes to a tailor and instructed him on what to do.

“Two weeks later, the clothes were an absolute disaster. I realised that if the idea was to work, we had to create the product from scratch.”

 Model in a Nursing Mama dress (@NursingMamaKE)

In July 2018, with her husband’s help, Beatrice approached a manufacturer who was open to producing outfits in small quantities. They designed outfits with accessibility zips, buttons, layers and flaps.

“We ordered 1,000 pieces, which cost us Sh1.1 million. As fate would have it, my husband had just opted to take a pay package because his company was laying people off, so we had the money. When I pitched the business idea to him, he liked it and came on board.”

 (@NursingMamaKE)

Going online

Beatrice posted her products online, and in three days, they registered a turnover of Sh100,000.

“We were addressing a real need that no one else was tackling in the market, so the orders came in quickly. I made a point of doing the deliveries myself so I could meet our customers and get their feedback.”

Their first products were exclusively jumpers, retailing at Sh3,500. However, when they got space at an exhibition taking place in Nairobi’s Sarit Center, Nursing Mama decided to add tops with a lighter fabric for warmer weather. The tops retailed at Sh1,500.

“The exhibition, Baby Banda, was aimed at pregnant and nursing mothers. It was the perfect avenue for our product. We paid Sh85,000, excluding VAT, which was a big investment, but we made sales of Sh500,000 in the three days that it ran.”

But after the October exhibition, sales plummeted in November and December. Beatrice realised this was mainly because they didn’t have enough variety, so they missed out on repeat customers.

It was an important lesson for Beatrice because when they started, they’d make 1,000 pieces of each design, with similar ratios for the various body sizes.

“We got a new manufacturer who taught us that to maximise on sales, we needed to ensure our size ratios reflected the numbers in the market. For instance, most people are medium or large in size, so we needed to have more of those sizes than, say, the extra-small or extra-large,” Beatrice says.

“Once we altered our numbers and increased the designs, our sales picked back up.”

The turnover

In the year to date, Nursing Mama has turned over Sh3 million.

“I’ve received a lot of support, not just from my husband, but from my siblings as well. I work with my sister, who mostly helps us during our photoshoots, and my younger brothers who do the day-to-day sales with me,” she says.

“My mum and dad are really excited about the business as well. In fact, my dad is so bold that whenever he sees a lady with a baby, he’ll approach her and ask if she has heard of Nursing Mama, and then tell her about it. He has asked me to get him flyers to make his pitches easier.”

Nursing Mama received a huge boost when it applied and was accepted to pitch on KCB Lions’ Den, which is currently airing its fourth season on KTN on Tuesdays.

 (@NursingMamaKE)

On the TV show, entrepreneurs get a chance to sell their idea to business investors, the Lions.

“It was nerve-wracking, I never realised how difficult it would be to stand in public and try to convince people  I don’t know why they should invest in me,” Beatrice says.

“But, despite stumbling a little bit, we managed to get an investment of Sh2 million for 30 per cent equity.”

Two investors, Olive Gachara and Joanne Mwangi, bought into Beatrice’s idea.

“They understood that we were addressing a real need that will never stop being a need because babies are born every single day.”

Nursing Mama plans to expand to include not just stylish, convenient breast-feeding clothes, but also maternity wear.

“We want to walk with a mother from pregnancy to weaning. Our brand is about our customers, caring for both mother and baby.”

What if teachers too wore uniforms?
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